Die A Little

Megan Abbott

FEMME FATALES, OBSESSIVE LOVE, DOUBLE CROSSES

How does a respectable young woman fall into Los Angeles' hard-boiled underworld?

Shadow-dodging through the glamorous world of 1950s Hollywood and its seedy flip side, Megan Abbott's debut, Die a Little, is a gem of the darkest hue. This ingenious twist on a classic noir tale tells the story of Lora King, a schoolteacher, and her brother Bill, a junior investigator with the district attorney's office. Lora's comfortable, suburban life is jarringly disrupted when Bill falls in love with a mysterious young woman named Alice Steele, a Hollywood wardrobe assistant with a murky past.Made sisters by marriage but not by choice, the bond between Lora and Alice is marred by envy and mistrust. Spurred on by inconsistencies in Alice's personal history and possibly jealous of Alice's hold on her brother, Lora finds herself lured into the dark alleys and mean streets of seamy Los Angeles. Assuming the role of amateur detective, she uncovers a shadowy world of drugs, prostitution, and ultimately, murder.Lora's fascination with Alice's "sins" increases in direct proportion to the escalation of her own relationship with Mike Standish, a charmingly amoral press agent who appears to know more about his old friend Alice than he reveals. The deeper Lora digs to uncover Alice's secrets, the more her own life begins to resemble Alice's sinister past -- and present.Steeped in atmospheric suspense and voyeuristic appeal, Die a Littleshines as a dark star among Hollywood lights.

 

Lora King is a teacher at Westridge School for Girls in 1950’s Pasadena, where she’s content with her “normal” life of work and occasional dates. She’s always been close to her brother Bill, a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office, and the two see each other frequently. Then, Bill falls in love with Alice Steele, a former Hollywood wardrobe assistant. Alice is beautiful, engaging and alluring, so it’s not long before Bill and Alice are married. Lora has to admit that she’s a bit resentful of this new influence in her brother’s life. But she wants her brother to be happy, so for his sake, she makes efforts to be friendly and welcoming to her new sister-in-law. Alice turns out to be frighteningly efficient and soon gets involved in all the local charities and neighbourhood events. In fact, it’s not long before she’s the star of the local social group. Little by little, though, Lora begins to suspect that there’s more to Alice than meets the eye, and that some of it may be unpleasant.

Many of the scenes in the novel take place at seedy hotels and run-down apartments that add to the darkness in the story. But there is one important 'bright' spot in this story that’s worth mentioning: the relationship between Bill and Lora King. They are devoted to each other and put each other’s welfare above nearly everything else. Despite everything that happens in the story, the two stay friends as well as siblings, and the strength they get from each other is obvious. That sense of caring is an important part of what makes it easy for the reader to like them and cheer them on.

The story takes place in and around 1950’s Los Angeles, and Abbott places the reader squarely there. Die a Little is as much a novel of psychological suspense as it is anything else, so the characters have shades and depths that also keep the reader interested. The mysteries are interesting, too, and the setting is believably crafted and very appropriate for the plot.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

About Megan Abbott:

Megan Abbott is the Edgar® award-winning author of the novels The End of Everything Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little, Bury Me Deep and her latest, Dare Me (July 2012).

Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, Detroit Noir, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Storyglossia, Queens Noir and The Speed Chronicles. Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan and received her Ph.D. from New York University. She has taught at NYU, the State University of New York and the New School University.She is also the author of a nonfiction book, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, and the editor of A Hell of a Woman, an anthology of female crime fiction. She has been nominated for many awards, including three Edgar® Awards, Hammett Prize, the Macavity, Anthony and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pushcart Prize.